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Is It Me Or Juliette Binoche? You Decide…

Where do I start? Thank you. Well, thanks again. THANKS SO MUCH! I can’t believe it! I never thought that I would be shortlisted, because I usually suck at competitions. After all, I used to be a Signalling Engineer, and I happen to be French. Let’s just say that the odds were not in my favour (as far as writing was concerned!).  But here it is. I am shortlisted for the Bibs2014 award, in the ‘Outstanding’ category. Yes, you can check here. It feels really good that so many of you took the time to vote, or simply to comment or read this blog. Thank you for your continuous support over the months/years. I am humbled, and very pleased. You guys ROCK!

I am of course very happy to be shortlisted, and for me it is more than enough. That said, if you are so inclined, you can vote for me here for the top spot (last category, French Yummy Mummy).

The thing is, it is not the only good news of the day. No, really. This morning, when I was walking on the street, a lady stopped and asked me whether I was Juliette Binoche. Juliette Binoche is not that well-known outside of France (a couple of British friends of mine think that her name is Juliette Brioche. Philistines) but she is one of my all-time favourite actresses, and I was very flattered. We seem to share a similar haircut and a love of chocolate (Me, because I just love eating it, and her because she played in a movie called ‘Chocolate’), but, frankly, I don’t think that it goes any further.

I replied. “No, not at all” and smiled. I grinned because I was flattered, obviously: Juliette Binoche is a gorgeous lady. The lady was observing me and didn’t seem to believe me. I think that the French accent betrayed me. She is convinced that I AM Juliette Binoche. Except that I am not. No, really. I would like to be, but I am definitively NOT Juliette Binoche.

Maybe all the gym sessions have paid off? I wonder what is going on? More realistically, I think that the lady needs a new pair of spectacles. But hey, it made my day in what was a very gloomy start, because the Tube strike is a nightmare. My mum was going back to France today, we had booked a taxi for her to go to Victoria but the cab company cancelled and she had to take the bus. To top it up, somehow she made it sound like it was my fault. Not a nice start. But hey, who cares? I look like Juliette Binoche, and I am shortlisted for the BiBs2014.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Politics /

It is all over the news and I must admit that I can’t help feeling a bit sad. Alstom, one of the biggest remaining industrial French companies, might be bought by General Electric. You could think that it is just another Corporate merger. Well, you would be wrong: we French believe that we are different, and as a result there is a last-minute twist in the plot: the French government isn’t pleased with the GE offer (I am unsure as to why, it all sounds like basic antiamericanism to me. Come on, let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?), and would like Siemens to make a counter offer, in order to create ‘a European champion’ -whatever this means-. They have even said that they would consider nationalising Alstom if need be. All of this might sound like it is happening very far from you, but, you see, as a young engineer, I used to work for Alstom. I was the project manager for the Rolling Stock of  the Line 14 in Paris (Ah, memories!). In French, I would say that I have a pinching feeling in my heart (‘un pincement au coeur’). It is the end of an era. Yes, I must admit that I still love Alstom. Alstom is a matter of national pride. That said, things got a bit rough recently. Alstom was bleeding cash. Simply put, Alstom hasn’t restructured its business as it should to stay competitive. Things  came to a head, and the only option was to find a buyer. And GE came.

I wouldn’t want to be a member of Alstom’s board right now. Basically, GE and Alstom have been talking for quite some time, and GE wants to buy the Power/Energy division of the French company. They have put a lot of cash on the table. To make matters even more complicated, one of Alstom’s main shareholders, Bouygues, badly needs to sell its participation to buy a telecommunication company. The French government disagrees with what it disingenuously calls ‘a shareholder’s approach’ -conveniently ignoring Alstom’s difficulties and massive overheads-. In theory, the government shouldn’t say anything, and shouldn’t interfere with private capital. In practice, our ministers are trying to revive a former offer from Siemens. 

The thing is, if Siemens and Alstom were to merge, in the longer run there will be massive redundancy plans because the overlaps between both companies are simply everywhere, from the operational divisions to the headquarters. Siemens is a direct competitor in most markets. To top everything up, Siemens isn’t in that great a shape either (Can two companies in a difficult position make a healthy company? I am not so sure). Oh, and I am also convinced that the European antitrust laws would never allow for this merger to happen. So why is this debate happening at all?

I am worried for Alstom’s future, and for my former colleagues. The French government might manage to stop GE from buying Alstom. But where would it leave my former employer? Would it really save it? Well, quite the opposite: nobody will want to invest in Alstom. Alstom will become moribund, and it would be another blow to the ailing French economy. Foreign investments in France will drop too. In short, even if I can only follow what is happening from London, I fear that Alstom might become the latest victim of a misjudged French interventionism. I really hope to be proven wrong…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

The last two weeks were a bit of an emotional roller coaster (can you spot the British understatement here?) and it feels incredibly good to finally be able to write a post. Come to think about it, writing is such a luxury… Anyway, here we are. I also wanted to tell you that I enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Ritz. Getting ready was a bit of a challenge, with everything going on. But hey, what’s a woman got to do? I had to look fabulous of course. And whether you are French or British, well, if you are a woman, it is all about the shoes. No exceptions. To make matters even worse, at my (advanced) age, every detail counts. I absolutely had to find the right shoes. It was all about the shoes, and I knew it. It took me a long time to find the right shoes. But boy, I found them. Look at the beauties. I felt head over heels in love. Not literally, of course. That said, to be completely frank, I had to practice walking in them for quite some time. I am a bit rusted, you see. Too mumsy, maybe. Life is harsh.
Any mum who has to get ready for a party knows that it requires a military organisation.
For me, it all started six weeks ago. I knew I needed to go back to the gym and lose some weight. So I did. And I need to lose more. It just never stops. I will give myself a bit of time.
Then, I found the shoes. Eventually, the dress. I wanted something simple, with a little bit of an edge. I don’t like to look too bland.
Closer to the date, I had to make sure to get a manicure and a pedicure. I don’t know about you, but I am never patient enough for the nail polish to dry. Sigh. I know it is a first-world problem, but you need to look the part for a formal dinner, right. It is just being polite, right?
Then I had to find the time for a blow dry.  I told you, next time I will have to hire a project manager to get ready.
And here was the result.

I must admit that it feels good to look like a woman for once. Must do it more often.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

What is going on? I am spending a couple of days in France and it seems that, well, I am standing out. I have taken (some of) my Britishness with me, and it shows. I feel like an outsider. Not nice.

Let me explain. Whenever I meet someone, I ask (in French) ‘How are you?’ Or ‘How are you doing?’ I had two, well, interesting replies today. The first one, from my father, was ‘you know how I am’. The second one, from the shopkeeper, was ‘it is none of your business’. Right. Sounds like my question was a miss then. Ok, lesson learned.
The second one was at the wheel. You see, I don’t do road rage. I respect speed limitations and if a fellow driver is in a difficult position, I will stop to let him/her pass. My mother, who was sitting next to me, was ballistic. She asked me why I had stopped to help the poor guy who had been waiting for so long, because, according to her, I shouldn’t have: I had priority (seriously, who cares?). She went on to illustrate this point a couple of hours later when she was driving ( I don’t think she will let me drive ever again) when she thought that the car in front of us wasn’t going fast enough. She then drove as close as possible to it, and started tooting her horn to try to make it go faster. Suffice to say that it didn’t work. All she got was a middle finger of the other driver. I didn’t understand why she was so worked up about the whole thing. In fact, I still don’t.
What has happened to me? I used to live here. I knew how to behave. Well, not any more. And it feels weird. I really don’t know where I belong any more. Is it good? Is it bad? Well, it is just me.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, Politics /

It is all over the press: there is a new binding agreement -some are even talking of a law, which is not the case just yet-, that says that managers of the technology and consultancy sector should switch off their professional mobile phones and not reply to professional emails after 6pm. As a result, the British press is having a field day with the ‘lazy French’, who apparently still indulge in lovely ‘5 to 7’ after work. In short, the good old cliches are back with a vengeance.

I personally believe that the situation is far more complicated that it seems. In fact, I am of two minds. The thing is, I never switch off. I am always thinking of my business. That’s just the way it is, and I don’t want anyone to boss me around about what I should and shouldn’t do, thank you very much. I can’t help thinking that it is ridiculous to have a ‘one size-fits-all’ rule like this. What if you work in a global business and have to call your New York office? It might have to happen after 6pm on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you answer an urgent call from work? Seriously? Well, nobody will want to invest in France if that’s the case, and things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Don’t get me wrong: we all need a break from work from time to time. I take one when I need one. But do we really need a binding agreement for this? I don’t think so, because each business is different. There are good times, and there are bad times. You need to be flexible during bad times. And you have global businesses. And so on, and so forth. It is a fine balance. Of course some bosses are demanding too much from their employees. But no such law can change this, right?

In short, I think that, once again, this binding agreement is clumsily drafted. I am convinced that it just intended to state the obvious: we all need a break.  I am also sure that the intentions of whoever drafted it are good. But it shows in an all-to-obvious way that France is not business-minded. It also shows that France can’t go beyond its narrow-minded parochialism. There is a world outside of France, and there is a need for flexibility within each business. Being pragmatic is simply not France’s forte, that’s pretty obvious.

The British way is very different, and, for me, it is a breath of fresh air. For instance, a year ago, things got to a head when my (then French) husband needed a second passport because his actual one was at the Chinese embassy to get a visa for a future business trip. In order to get another one, he had to go to the French consulate to explain why he needed a second passport. He managed to make an appointment, which was nothing short of a miracle, and went. There, he was given a lecture on the fact that his request needed to be adequately justified and that they needed, amongst other things, a letter of his employer detailing the reasons why he needed another passport (this had already been provided and they wanted more details!!!), and a copy of his local contract and payslips.

What? He couldn’t believe his ears. He went back to his office and called me. He said that he felt he was being watched over by the Stasi. He also added that he didn’t  want to give a copy of his contract to the French authorities. Why would he? He decided to become British shortly afterwards.

When, a year after, he was naturalised, nobody asked him any questions as to why he wanted a second British passport. He paid £25 and, the day after, a second British passport was delivered to our house. No question asked. No additional justification. You have got to love the Brits!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

 Kate Holt/ActionAid; Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos/ActionAid; Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ActionAid.

I live in a privileged world of fantastically-groomed yummy mummies. The topic of the conversation seems to be the bonus of your husband right now. I suppose that it is this time of the year. I remember reading somewhere that the bankers’ bonuses were supposed to be capped. I thought that it was going to be a bombshell but frankly it doesn’t seem to make the slightest difference. I still hear them talk about private jets, magnificent yachts and holiday homes all around the world. Most of the other mums are spending the Easter break in the Maldives, in Barbados, or in other fantastic locations. As for me, here I am, in London, waiting to become an aunt again, and trying to care, as much as possible, for elderly relatives. Oh, and also trying to file my business accounts -complete and utter nightmare- while keeping the kids busy. Not so yummy mummy, after all. I am simply drained.

Things got to a head when I overheard one alpha mum tell everybody that she had just spent more than £600 on a new hairstyle. What? Seriously, how can you spend £600 in one go on your hair? She then added that she had just had a colonic irrigation gone wrong. Too much information, thank you vey much.

So that’s how they get so skinny, I thought. Colonic irrigation. Well, not for me. 

I started to wonder how you can have such a great education and become so vain. Where did we all go wrong? Millions of women around the world are longing for an education, trying to make a living in difficult conditions and here we are, talking about luxurious holidays and other empty niceties. What is going on? When did we lose our sense of perspective?

So, here is my little secret when I start indulging in some self pity: I support a charity. Action Aid has launched a campaign called She Can. Please visit their page, and donate if you can. Frankly, I wish that I could make more of a difference, but, hey, it is a good starting point, right? And, best of all, the women supported by Action Aid will make good use of their education. What’s not to like about it?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

It’s Monday morning. I am starting the week with a much needed cappuccino. The week has barely commenced but I already know that I will not have a minute to myself. Usually, my morning’s coffee is my favourite time of the day. Today, things are slightly different.
Shortly after sitting down two middle-aged guys come to sit at the next table. They are French and talking loudly, as if the coffee shop belonged to them. This is clearly a risky bet: London is the biggest French City outside of France. They don’t seem to care…
One of them explains that he is back from Singapore and that he was able to watch a raunchy movie, Adele, on the flight back. He says that it was embarrassing to watch the love scenes while the air hostesses were serving the meals. He copiously comments on their looks. He seems very proud of himself and smiles broadly. He also keeps gushing with pride over his sexual comments. What a sleazy man!
To make matters even worse, both guys seem to be enjoying themselves like mad. I would understand if they were teenagers suffering from an hormone overload, but clearly they have passed this stage. What is wrong with them?
They continue to shout various borderline obscene comments, mainly about female colleagues this time. The size of their breasts seems to be the topic of the conversation.
I don’t know what to do. I wish I couldn’t understand any French, but I can’t help it: I happen to be French, whether I like it or not. There are other customers in the shop, and they are all ignoring them.
I don’t want to make a fuss, especially as it is the start of the week. I should try to ignore them, right? But I can’t. I find it incredibly hard to comprehend why someone would take such pleasure at shouting sexually-charged comments in a coffee shop. 
What to do ? After five long minutes and an empty cup of cappuccino, I grab my iPhone and pretend that I need to call someone. I start speaking French, obviously. They look surprised, and seem to find it very funny. I need to up the ante. I stand up and prepare to leave the coffee shop. While I stand up, still pretending to talk on the phone, I say (in French ).
‘ I was sitting next to two frustrated Frenchmen who couldn’t help boasting about themselves and make sexual comments’
And I left. They looked stunned. What would you have done?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

My Daughter Is Having A Cookie

It is official : the Easter break has started. This basically means that I can’t do anything for the next three weeks or so, because my children are on holidays. I can either look after them, which will involve lots of trips to the park, kids movies and lunches at McDonalds, or pay someone else to do it. How do women work in this country again? I don’t get it. Unless you can ship your kids to their grandparents, I really don’t see how people manage.

Seriously, what am I supposed to do for three weeks? Three whole weeks!!!
Things got to a head this morning when I eventually realised that school was finishing at 11.30 am. Can someone tell me what the point of going to school is, if you are going to stay there two and a half hours? Why not cancel it altogether? Because as soon as you have dropped your children, you need to pick them up anyway.
I am desperately looking for athletic camps, swimming camps, or anything that would give me a couple of hours of freedom every day. Am I allowed to say that I hate holidays? Because everybody gets to do what they want. Except me.
Am I the only mum dreaming of a holiday on my own, without kids movies and sport camps? Just me, and me. Pure bliss. Well, it is not going to happen. When do things get better again?
I hate to say it, but right now I am feeling slightly jealous of my childless friends. Could we swap life for a while? I long for making last-minute decisions, weekends in New York at a moment’s notice and not feeling obliged to stock up on grocery and toilet paper all the time. I have it all, you see: I have to run my business and take care of the children, and the house as well. I wish there were more hours during the day to do everything. And why do the most boring things take the most time? I am knackered after a bit of tidying-up.
If I am completely honest, things were a little bit easier (and a lot cheaper) in France, as far as children were concerned at least. And as much as I like being a Mom, I am also well, me. Seriously, why doesn’t society acknowledge that mums sometimes need a break? Moms have to help everybody else all the time, but who is supposed to help them? I really wonder. How about you, how do you survive Easter?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London